“You won’t have any trouble finding us.” After taking one last, long look at the photo of Maddie, Duane flipped a hand and walked out. Colin followed, pausing only to let his assistant know where he was going.
Not until he was behind the wheel of his SUV did he think back to that night. He hadn’t been two months on the job when he’d been sent to the park to investigate an elderly neighbor’s report that she’d heard a woman’s scream.
Teenagers liked the park at night; even in his short time patrolling, Colin had already broken up keggers half a dozen times there. The park, a sizable one, was within city limits, and a stretch along the bank of the Deschutes River was manicured and included a picnic area and playground. Ten or fifteen acres had been left in wilderness, only a couple of dirt paths showing that kids cut from one neighborhood to another through the swath of forest. That night, though, he hadn’t been able to feel the presence of anyone at all. Kids weren’t good at being absolutely quiet. They were prone to giggles or nervous rustling or shushing each other. And he hadn’t known why, but the fine hairs at his nape stirred from the moment he stepped into the darkness, swinging his flashlight beam in an arc to pierce the darker shadows beneath madrona and snowberry.
Sitting here now, in the parking lot outside the police station, he let himself remember how it had been. The moment the yellow beam caught a glint of metal.
He’d been maybe twenty-five yards into the woods when he saw it. A good ten feet off the trail a bike lay on its side. He’d stepped close, squatted on his haunches to look closely and felt a chill. No, the mountain bike wasn’t just lying there, as if temporarily flung aside. One handlebar dug deep in the rusty-red soil and left a track two feet long. Maybe his imagination was excited by the deep night here under the ponderosa and lodgepole pines, by the eerie quiet, by the dispatcher’s description of the shrill scream cut off sharply. But Colin couldn’t help picturing the bike rider hanging on tight, trying to use the bike as an anchor, while someone wrenched him—no, her, if the neighbor had been right—off of it. The front tire rim was bent, the spokes mangled. He thought someone might have stepped right there, the way you might plant a foot on a pet carrier to yank a reluctant animal out.
Rising to his feet, he swept the flashlight beam in a careful pattern. Footprints wouldn’t show up well with the ground so dry, but he could make out scuffed vegetation. Closer to the path, furrows and imprints marked the soil. And a dark patch. He edged nearer, still trying to keep his distance. If this was a crime scene, he didn’t want to taint it and be given hell by the detectives.
Something had been spilled there, and was still wet. Colin had stretched out to his full reach and touched the edge of the spill, then brought his finger to his nose and sniffed. The acrid scent was unmistakable. Blood. A fair pool of it had been lost here. Not enough to suggest someone had bled out, but too much for an innocent accident, even a head wound.
He had just made the decision to go back and call this in when he spotted something else, almost hidden beneath a ceanothus. A wallet...no, a coin purse. Leather, in the shape of a cat’s face, whiskers, nose and eyes burned into the hide and colored. Cute. He tucked the flashlight beneath his arm, put on a pair of latex gloves and picked up the coin purse. Change rattled as he unzipped it and found folded bills in there, too, and a driver’s license. No, he saw, his stomach clenching: a driver’s permit, the kind issued to young teens.
He found himself staring at the photo. A girl’s face, young but somehow not hopeful. She was shy, probably, gazing warily at the camera. A few freckles scattered across a small nose. Instead of being youthfully soft, this face was thin, the wings of cheekbone too prominent, the chin too pointed, the forehead too high. Hair was scraped back into a ponytail. In this light he couldn’t tell what color her eyes were.
Brown, said the description. Hair brown, too. Her name was Madeline Noelle Dubeau. He remembered feeling stunned. He knew that name. Marc Dubeau was a prominent local businessman, a friend of the police chief’s. That last name wouldn’t be common in central Oregon. This almost had to be his daughter.
Madeline, he noted, was fifteen years old, turning sixteen on November 26, when she would be eligible to take the driver’s test for her license.
She was the same age as Colin’s sister, Caitlin.
He turned the flashlight beam again on that dark patch where blood sank into the soil. Anger and a sick feeling squeezed his chest. Would Madeline Dubeau ever have a chance to get that driver’s license?
Colin had tried to convince himself he was letting his imagination run away from him, that she’d had a friend with her who had already helped her make her way home. Or driven her to the emergency room.